While looking back is a valuable part of the growth process – and the wisdom that comes from evaluating your wins and losses is invaluable to any leader – it turns out that most of the world’s top CEOs tend to spend more time looking forward than backward. They take action, provoke a response, and make decisions quickly.
The Harvard Business Review studied CEO characteristics for a decade, using a range of over 17,000 executives and 2,000 CEOs. Some of the findings were surprising:
Introverts tended to perform better than extroverts
Almost half of CEOs (45%) have a major failure in the past (ended a job or made a mistake that threatened the business)
Only 7% had an Ivy League education
The study also identified four key behaviors.
A) Deciding with Speed and Conviction
Successful CEOs aren’t always the ones that make the right decision, they’re the ones that tend to make decisions quickly and follow through. Conversely, CEOs that tended to be more intellectual and overthink decisions usually made good decisions but were too slow to make an impact. Business success is about striking while the iron is hot, and sometimes the wrong decision is better than no decision at all.
The lesson for 12-volt retailers is to poop or get off the pot on the major decisions you have to make. Need a bigger space? Go find one. Want to upgrade your showroom? Make the investment. Not sure whether you want to offer a new service (e.g. window tint or bed liners)? Do it, and give it a year to succeed.
B) Engaging for Impact
Successful CEOs are able to articulate their vision and get buy-ins from their boards and teams of directors. CEOs who were more engaging and open tended to do better. They don’t shy away from conflict but manage it better than the average person by addressing the specific issue and resolving it in a way that keeps team members energized. Shouting down naysayers on your team is not the way to build a successful company.
The lesson for 12-volt retailers is to 1) have a vision, 2) have a plan that achieves that vision, and 3) to effectively share that vision with your team – explaining why certain things are necessary. Not all team members will be on board, but if you can persuade them that it’s in their interest and the business’s interest to get on board, and make them part of your vision, they will get over their objections.
C) Adapting Proactively
Good CEOs have a knack for absorbing bad news, processing it quickly, and moving on to the next thing. You have to adapt to the situation and make the next decision accordingly and view setbacks as a normal part of the process vs. a personal failure.
The lesson for 12-volt retailers is to expect constant change and crisis situations, but not react to every setback as anything more than a correction – or a prompt to do something else. For example, maybe one product you’ve invested in is faulty in some way. The typical reaction would be to get angry at everyone who put that product in your inventory and to stress about your investment. The CEO response would be to find a replacement product ASAP and put a plan in place to deal with warranty customers.
D) Delivering Reliably
CEOs who are generally “safe” and make a steady profit tend to do better than meteoric personalities that could probably do even better but are less steady and reliable. Reliability means reacting in a predictable way to stress, meeting targets, getting work done on time, showing up to meetings and events, and embodying a set of core values that don’t change over time.
12-volt retailers can be steady. They can set a tone for temperament and communication, they can reassure staff that they are behind them, they take stress away, they set and reach realistic milestones, and at the end of every quarter they can point to a list of things that were achieved – business metrics, measures of employee success, customer feedback, changes to the store and retail systems, training completed, fires put out, and so on. Employees trust employers that get things done – if the employee did the actual work.
There’s no one personality type that succeeds in business all the time. You don’t need to be an MBA or Ivy Leaguer. You don’t need to be a saint or a tyrant. However, if you have the ability to constantly move forward, make decisions quickly, get over failures quickly, and get your team on board, then you have a better than average chance at making it.